Revealed: How the HSE censored an inconvenient fact

On Thursday April 15th this year, Dr. Darina Flanagan of NPHET gave evidence to the High Court, in a case which challenged the legitimacy of Mandatory Hotel Quarantine. Her evidence was reported by the Irish Times under the headline: “Constitutional rights of women in mandatory quarantine breached, court told”

Speaking to the Court, Dr. Flanagan said that Quarantine was necessary for various reasons. Not least of which was that the (then new) Covid vaccines might be ineffective against the Delta variant of Covid 19.

She said:

In reply to Michael Cush SC for the State she said “that without a doubt” the quarantine measures were “absolutely proportionate” and necessary in order to help counter the pandemic.

Under cross examination from Mr Power, she expressed concerns about the potential impact of variants of Covid-19, particularly the strain known as the South African variant, who had proven more resistant.

She also said that the last thing she wanted was that in the summer there would be huge outbreaks of the South African variant here, against which vaccines would not work.

This was obviously newsworthy. After all, here was a Senior member of NPHET saying, under oath, that the agency feared there was a chance the Covid vaccines might not work. And that this was why Mandatory Quarantine might be necessary.It was also newsworthy because it was completely at odds with the public statements of NPHET, and, indeed, almost every other expert.

I thought this was interesting, and wrote about it on Gript. If you read this piece, you will see that it is very sceptical about Dr. Flanagan’s claims to the court:

NPHET tells high court: The vaccines might not work, you know

 

Now where does the HSE come in?

Well, the HSE reported that Gript article to Facebook and Twitter, saying it was “misinformation”. Our social media posts promoting the article can be found here, in a list of material sent by the HSE to social media companies, revealed by journalist Ken Foxe:

In other words, the HSE told Social Media companies to stop, or reduce, the circulation of our article on the basis that it misinforms the public. But it absolutely does not.

Everything in the piece is true. In fact, it takes a broadly pro-vaccine position, consistent with everything I have written on the subject. I’d challenge anybody to find misinformation in it.

Now the HSE did this without public comment. Or without the opportunity for public scrutiny. We only know about it because of FOI work done by the journalist Ken Foxe, who revealed a list of materials which the HSE had asked social media companies to censor.

In this case, a cynic might think that the Government was censoring information that made NPHET look bad. The more banal explanation is that somebody working for the HSE did not read past the headline. Either way, there’s no justification for it.

We have no way of knowing whether FB and Twitter acted on the HSE’s request to censor our content or reduce its reach. But we do know from experience not to much trust the neutrality or objectivity of their moderation teams.

The point is that this is a western Government – the Irish Government – casually asking Facebook and Twitter to censor completely accurate information and doing so in secret. That should be a national scandal but won’t be, for a couple of reasons.

First, of course, it’s Gript. If you read us, or write for us, you may as well be a leper, to some sets of eyes in the Irish establishment. We probably deserved it, if not for this, then for some other imagined crime.

Second, sure weren’t the HSE meaning well, just trying to stop vaccine misinformation and accidentally getting it wrong. That’s how it will be rationalised.

But of course, the reason we have always refused to give Governments this power is that they 1) abuse it against opponents and 2) are fundamentally incompetent and will abuse it in error.

Who knows what other accurate information the HSE have asked social media companies to censor? There is no accountability for this process. The whole thing is an absolute disgrace, but, as I say, it’s just Gript, so, media friends, keep your heads down and say nothing.

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